Health Official Tries to Reassure Public That Science Will Set Vaccine Approval

Dr. Francis S. Collins, the National Institutes of Health director, who testified before senators along with Surgeon General Jerome Adams, said a vaccine wouldn’t be made available unless it was safe.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON — Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, took issue on Wednesday with President Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine would be available by Election Day, as he sought to reassure senators and the public that a vaccine would not be made available unless it was safe and effective.

“Certainly, to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident they know what they are saying,” Dr. Collins told a Senate panel at a hearing on the effort to find a vaccine.

Wednesday’s hearing, before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, came amid growing concern over whether people would be reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine, and whether Mr. Trump would apply political pressure on his administration to quickly approve one to give him a boost in his re-election bid.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, pushed back against that criticism.

“Our timing is not about the election,” she said. “It’s about saving lives.”

On Tuesday, a group of drug companies all in the race to develop vaccines pledged that they would not release any vaccines that did not follow rigorous efficacy and safety standards. Hours later, a leading vaccine developer, AstraZeneca, announced that it had suspended a large-scale, late-stage global clinical trial of a vaccine candidate after a patient experienced what may have been a severe adverse reaction.

Dr. Collins pointed to that development as “a concrete example of how even a single case of unexpected illness is sufficient to hold a clinical trial in multiple countries” — and evidence that “we cannot compromise” on safety.

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, echoed that sentiment.

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